“Good design is good business.”
~Thomas Watson, Jr. (President, IBM), 1952
While the above quote from IBM’s former president Thomas Watson, Jr. rings ever true, at Mäd we think businesses don’t just need good design, they need great design. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main point is this: Great Design adds a lot of value to your business, and increases your bottom line.
So before we tackle the question of what is great design, and how your business can have great design, we should discuss exactly what design is.
When people think about design for business, they might think about branding, logos, websites, company brochures, etc. But design is not just about the aesthetics, it’s about how everything looks and works.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
~ Steve Jobs
Do your customers have to wait ten minutes for a receipt when they purchase an item from your shop? That’s bad design. Do you automatically email them the receipt if they are already in your database? That’s great design.
So we can split design into two major categories:
- How it Looks
- How it Works
At Mäd we work on both types of design problems every day. We’re constantly helping companies create a strong visual brand that their customers will love. We also tackle the technical issues of delivering a seamless and intuitive digital experience, regardless if their clients are shopping online, or simply reading a blog.
So, what is great design? Especially in our case: What is great design for business?
There have been entire books dedicated to this subject, but the main points are:
Great design communicates the core values of your business to everyone outside your business. Your customers and the general public should be able to instantly understand what makes your company tick by seeing how your company looks (the brand) and by interacting with your company (in your stores, on your website, or with your mobile application).
You can’t please everyone all the time, and that’s absolutely fine. It shouldn’t be your aim. What is important is having an image that is clearly professional and which looks and feels designed. Your business materials shouldn’t look like they were designed by your accountant. Of course, you should have a primary target audience in mind, and you should aim your design primarily for them.
You should be able to create a story that your user can follow, and then you can begin to shape their thoughts, actions, emotions, and align their actions with the path you design for them. An example of this would be a beautiful and functional shop (think Apple Stores) whose main aim is to show the product in the best possible light and to convince the people walking in to make a purchase.
This is different for every business, and the main point is that great design is whatever works best for your business.
So now that we know what great design is, it’s worth taking the time to review why it’s so important for your business.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The first time that someone interacts with your business is perhaps the most important and fragile moment in the road to turning that someone into a customer or user.
With the average consumer now having daily interactions with beautifully designed products and services (think Apple, Twitter, the new Microsoft), expectations have risen.
Even companies that don’t count their yearly revenues in the billions of dollars are now expected to reach similar design standards to companies that do.
At Mäd we make software purchases on behalf of our clients every week, and we never purchase software from a vendor that has a bad website or brand. Perhaps we miss out on some great products, but this simple rule works because of the following assumption:
A company that hasn’t put much time, effort, and resources in building an awesome brand probably hasn’t put much time in building their product or service offering.
Perhaps this is overly harsh, but more often than not it is an accurate description of the reality.
This belief and assumption are reflected in our current website. It’s highly minimalist, and yet it clearly shows that we’ve invested in the brand, that we have a strong core vision of simplicity and clarity.
This leads us nicely to the next point…
With the world and technology moving at an ever-increasing pace, nowadays it is easy to be left behind. Fortunately, there is a great way to kickstart the transformation process and leapfrog the competition.
A completely fresh brand for your business is a bold announcement that things have changed. It can go hand in hand with new technological implementations, a better customer experience, new business processes, or even a new product launch.
You can retrieve old customers who previously left disappointed and honestly show them this time that things are different. They will almost automatically see you in a new light.
Of course, a rebrand must be considered carefully. It is undoubtedly a powerful tool, but it is not enough by itself. Instead, real change must happen within the business.
The Halo Effect occurs when people judge something based on the values of something else. For instance, your potential customers judge your product to be better than your competitors not because they have in-depth knowledge of the specifications, but simply because the packaging looks better.
We know this as “judging a book by its cover”, which we all do every day. This very much links to our point regarding first impressions.
Why do people often judge things based on their overall feeling about it, instead of objective criteria?
In part, I think that we are now overburdened with information from all sides, that we must rely more and more on our impression and instinctive feeling. That is where business leaders prove themselves, in being able to instinctively make the right choice, time and time again, without having “information paralysis”.
Think about it: What if you wanted a website in the mid-1990s? You could probably contact a handful of digital agencies. Now there are tens of thousands, so how do you pick the right one? You cannot be truly objective when deciding on this sort of issue as there is too much choice. That’s why people decide on intuition and gut feeling. As a result, they restrict the playing field to limit the number of choices when making a purchase decision.
If you take the people out of a business, then you’re normally not left with much else. They are the ones who create the sales, serve the customers, create intellectual property, and ultimately build value for the business. Thus, it’s extremely important to make sure that your workforce is highly motivated and efficient. Placing them in an environment conducive that nurtures this culture goes a long way to ensure that your staff members produce the best work possible.
The gold standard is this: your staff members should be proud of working in your business. Having an awesome brand for your business plays a big part in fostering this pride.
At no time in history has great design been a better investment. Today, everyone has the nuts and bolts.
In many businesses, a lot of the technical details can be abstracted, which evens the playing field out for everyone. As a result, a high level of design and user experience is the differentiating factor that sets your business ahead of the rest.
Let’s think about this.
Nowadays when you launch a mobile app, a whole bunch of previously expensive steps not only come free of charge, but they are practically automated. For example:
- Apple or Google will take care of the distribution via their App Store.
- You can leverage the iOS or Android Software Development Kit to speed up development.
- You can host your app on the cloud and your cloud provider will take care of all the server maintenance, automatic scaling, monitoring, etc.
Only a few years ago, it cost millions of dollars to implement these processes. Now you can reach millions of active users for only a few thousand dollars. Whereas in times gone by you would have to order and ship millions of CDs, distribute them via magazines, run your own server and system operations team, now a small team can perform this task just as well from a dorm room.
The only downside to this, of course, is that your competition has exactly the same advantages. Which brings back to our original point: the differentiator is the design.
How does it look, and how does it work?
If you get this aspect right, then you position yourself to have users accept and use your products. This is the hardest part of your product or service development. It’s the part that takes the most vision from the people leading the business.
This leads us to perhaps the key thing to consider when running a business.
Going back to our previous example: making a customer wait ten minutes to get a receipt when making a purchase is an example of bad user experience. Design is the process of creating a great user experience. However, if the emailed receipt is delivered in an elegant email, as an attached PDF file for easy filing, including recommendations of related products and promotions which the customer are interested in, then we are reaching the realms of awesome user experience.
The great thing about giving your customers an awesome experience is that it increases your sales. The more sales you have, the more opportunity you have to give an awesome experience to your customers. This results in a fantastic positive spiral.
- They’ve had an awesome experience, so it is likely they will want to repeat it in the near future and repurchase.
- People like to share cool stuff with their friends and colleagues, as it makes them feel “in the know”.
We can’t stress enough how important the user experience is to a business. Unfortunately, it is something that most businesses only pay lip service to, while it should be their primary focus.
“Why change? Because good design is very profitable.”
~ Pat Schiavone – VP of Design, Whirlpool
You seldom find a terrible looking brand at the top of an industry.
Why is this?
Well, perhaps the companies at the top of their industries make more money, and so they can afford better designers to develop their brand.
Or perhaps not.
Good design is an external result of the reason why the company is at the top of the industry. Simply put, that is a superior culture within the workforce.
A culture that rewards intelligence and ambition knows how to incentivise its employees correctly.
Any company with a strong positive culture will never allow itself to have a bad brand, and that’s because the brand is an outward reflection of that very culture.
A sloppy, tired brand? It’s probably a sloppy, tired company culture behind it.
Think Brauer electronics, made over sixty years ago and they still serve as inspiration. Think of the Leica M3, a camera designed in 1953, and that is still being copied today by digital cameras. Think of Coca-Cola, designed in 1885, and undoubtedly the most recognized brand on the planet.
Therefore it’s important that whichever design partner you choose understands that a brand should be built to last.
At Mäd we always start each design project by reviewing the high-level goals of the entire company, and then begin to build a vision for the brand in 5, 10, 20 years in the future, and then working backwards from that vision to create something truly awe inspiring.
You know what’s the funny thing about things that last a long time?
They add value…
I read an interesting point of view recently, that argued that Coca-Cola’s brand was more valuable that all of its physical assets. Regardless of the true answer, it’s incredible that it is even considered.
Think about it: dozens and dozens of processing plants, offices, land, patents, computers, assets, etc., compared to a logo, two colors, and a distinctive bottle shape.
And yet, this does make one wonder what would happen if Coca-Cola gave all their physical assets and started from scratch with the same brand.
It is highly probable that they would become the world’s leading drinks company again within a short time. That is the true value of an awesome brand.
If your work is awesome, but your business’ brand does not reach the same level, then you may very well find that most people judge your business based on your brand instead of your work.
Again, this is in a way a sad fact of life, but the packing also does matter, not just the quality of what’s inside.